The Other Side of Animation 111: Despicable Me Review

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Well, we are finally here. We are going to be talking about the cash cow of cash cow animation franchises, Despicable Me. I can’t think of a film franchise that took animation by storm in such a short amount of time than Despicable Me. Sure, we have had worldwide success stories for animation, but to be constantly successful, that’s at the very least commendable. Sadly, Despicable Me has also become one of the most hated franchises, due to the films being not high quality, oversaturation of Universal and Illumination’s marketing, and the fact that for animation/film goers, they find success while not trying hard. Well, I think it’s time to take a look at the franchise. For the rest of December, I’m going to be looking at the four films that are currently available. Let’s start at the very beginning with 2010’s Despicable Me. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, with a story by Sergio Pablos, this film came out of nowhere making $546 million on a $69 mil budget. That is of course not adding all the money they made on merchandise and DVD sales. Still, I thought I would look back and see how this film holds up. Does it deserve its legacy, or was it just a product of its time? Let’s see what happens.

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The story revolves around Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, a super-villain with plans of being the world’s best super-villain. After being discouraged that an unknown super-villain stole the pyramids, he decides to set up a goal of stealing the moon! With the help of his lab assistant, Dr. Nefario, voiced by Russell Brand, and his army of the now iconic Minions, Gru goes to try and steal a shrink ray being held by another villain named Vector, voiced by Jason Segal. After failing to do so, Gru decides to get the help of three orphan girls that were able to get past Vector’s security. The three are named Margo, Edith, and Agnes, voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher. Can Gru get the shrink ray, and steal the moon with the help of the three girls, or will he be only a middle-of-the-pack supervillain?

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Since this is before the time the films became annoying audience-fodder, I think it’s fair to talk about the good aspects. I know that sounds silly to the hyperbolic hate crowd, but the first film does have a few elements that are noteworthy. First off, Gru is a great character. He’s probably the most consistently likable element throughout the entire franchise. He’s energetic, his movements are lively, and he is the right amount of evil to be fun to watch. I think it helps that Steve Carrell brings in his comedic charm to the character. Sure, his character is nothing new or revolutionary, being the bad guy with a heart of gold, but his interaction with the characters is the heart of the movie. The voice work is also pretty spectacular. While a lot of the film’s voice work is done by celebrities you can recognize, you get a few performances that you wouldn’t recognize, like Russell Brand is unrecognizable in the film as the elderly Dr. Nefario. While the animation is starting to show its age, for a studio’s first comedic film outing, the physical Looney-Toons-style comedy is pretty funny. It has the right amount of snappiness that you would see perfected in the later films. It’s not too fast to be exhausting, but it’s not too slow for the comedy to not land. And yes, let’s talk about those little yellow pills known as the Minions. I know people are really sick of them now, due to being over-saturated in the pop culture world, they were pretty funny in this movie. They had good expressions, had some funny lines, and were the right amount of funny without being annoying. However, that is just me. I know that these guys have been the punching bag for what’s wrong with animation, pop culture, and so on. Still, for the time, they were genius and memorable.

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What works about this movie is that it’s kept fairly on course. While the film does have laughs, it also has the right amount of heart to keep you invested in-between the laughs. You do feel for Gru, and his interaction with his three adopted daughters, and while he tries not to connect with them, even a super-villain has his limits. Especially when he knows a carnival game is rigged when one of the girls wants a large stuffed unicorn. What I mean is that the story knows what it wants to happen, and it doesn’t deviate, or do a lot of the things the later films would do with having multiple subplots. No, the first film is just about Gru, the girls, the plan to steal the moon, and the other super-villain, Vector. I like when a story knows what it wants to do, and it gives characters equal screen time. No one felt like they got the short end of the stick in terms of a character arc.

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Unfortunately, the film does have some flaws. For one, Vector is the weakest part about this film. He has the most annoying lines and jokes, and his design is simply not that great. He almost looks out of place among everyone else. There was just nothing that pleasant or entertaining. I know the actor behind him, Jason Segal is doing his best, but I don’t think Vector’s lines were strong enough for the performance. The film is also fairly predictable. You know every story beat and character arc. I wouldn’t mind that, if the writing was better. It’s not an annoying movie to sit through, but the writing isn’t strong enough to excuse the fact that you have seen this style of movie before. Like I said above as well, the animation is starting to show its age. The designs aren’t fully there yet, the smoothness of the animation isn’t there yet, the textures aren’t there yet, and while it’s hard to explain, watch all the movies in order of release, and you will see what I mean. I’m impressed that it looks as good as it does for CGI animation on a non-Pixar/Disney budget, but I guess they couldn’t iron out all the kinks yet, or didn’t have the tech for it yet.

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Overall, I like the first film. I don’t think I would like to own this movie at all, but it was enjoyable. It was a film that wanted to be a solid romp, and for the most part, it succeeds. I know some can say this film lays the groundwork for why people have issues with Illumination Entertainment, but at least it’s still a decent movie to watch. It’s also an interesting time capsule film to watch, since while the franchise may have lost its appeal seven years later, it’s always interesting to go back and see where it all started. There is a reason why this franchise took off and makes millions for Illumination and Universal. Plus, I can think of multiple animated films that are worse than the first Despicable Me. If you surprisingly haven’t seen it, I see no harm in picking up a copy. Even then, I could see myself watching this with my niece. Well, we will now step into the sequel that came out three years later with Despicable Me 2. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you liked it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!